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If you or your partner are living in the UK illegally, you will likely feel as though there are few options available for housing and finding work. This also applies to illegal migrants who wish to get married in the UK. Unfortunately, for any migrant, the UK government has made a number of moves in recent years to make getting married more difficult, in part to discourage sham marriages (see below) being used as a basis for dishonestly acquiring the rights of the spouse of a British or settled individual. The situation for an illegal immigrant is even more complex.
One of the first hurdles an illegal immigrant will hit when trying to get married in the UK is when applying to a notice of marriage. In the UK, notice for all marriages must be given in the year before getting married. This requires both parties to provide:
If you are from outside of the EU, EEA or from Switzerland, you are also required to provide proof of your current immigration status.
Clearly, providing a valid immigration status will not be possible for an illegal immigrant, meaning that you will not be able to give notice of marriage, and hence you will not be able to proceed with the ceremony.
If you have entered the UK without permission or your visa has expired (i.e. you are an overstayer), you may need to consider your options for making your immigration status legitimate (this is also referred to as regularisation). Regularisation means that a migrant moves from having no right to remain to be a legal migrant with temporary or indefinite leave to remain. This may be achieved by:
If you are in the UK illegally, it is essential to seek the advice of immigration Solicitors who will take the time to listen to the details of your situation and recommend the best course of action. This is a complex area of law, and given your illegal status, it is important to tread carefully, so as not to jeopardise your position unnecessarily.
If an immigration Solicitor cannot see a way you can make your immigration status in the UK legal, they may recommend returning to your home country to make a legitimate visa application to enable you to get married in the UK.
Once married, you can apply for a spouse visa to remain in the UK for 2 ½ years, which can be further extended. After five years in the UK on a spouse visa, you can then apply to remain permanently (by applying for indefinite leave to remain).
The UK’s Home Office defines a sham marriage or civil partnership as one whereby “the relationship is not genuine, but one party hopes to gain an immigration advantage from it”. If you are able to regularise your immigration status, the Home Office will be highly alert to the prospect that your marriage may not be genuine. A sham marriage is a criminal matter and lead to formal charges being laid against either party and anyone who has knowingly facilitated it.
You may also hear the use of the term ‘marriage of convenience’ which is defined in Recital 28 of the EU Free Movement Directive (Directive 2004/38/EC) as “a relationship contracted for the sole purpose of enjoying the right of free movement and residence”.
When registering to marry, the Home Office will automatically be informed if one of the couples is not: a British citizen, EEA or Swiss national, an indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or permanent residence (PR) holder, or exempt from immigration controls. Not all intended marriages will be investigated, however, only cases whereby there is a reasonable ground to suspect a sham marriage. Unfortunately, two of these grounds, as defined in the Marriage and Civil Partnership Referral and Investigation Scheme guidance are that either party:
As such, the marriage of a former illegal immigrant is very likely to attract the attention of the Home Office. That said, if you are investigated, as long as your planned marriage is entirely honest and genuine, and you prepared for the sham marriage investigation process, you have every reason to be successful.
Getting married in the UK as an illegal immigrant requires careful consideration. It is essential to seek expert legal advice from the outset before you make any plans. While the path ahead may be full of uncertainty, with the right advice, you may have a strong chance of success.